Boundaries, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles, Victim mentality, Who are you meant to be?

We're better with boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene’ Brown

I struggle with boundaries in certain areas of my life. And I’m quite certain that I’m not alone. I believe that a lack of boundaries is at the center of so many of the issues and relationship struggles I discuss with clients, co-workers, friends and family. Both personally and professionally, having healthy boundaries are essential to our happiness and well-being, and can help transform our lives.

Establishing healthy boundaries can be very difficult. It can feel extremely uncomfortable upsetting or disappointing others. Putting their needs before our own and ensuring their happiness seems like, on the surface anyway, the best way to keep the peace. But taking responsibility for everyone’s happiness while ignoring our own needs doesn’t actually make others happy. Nor does it make us happy. In fact, you’ll actually become very unhappy. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene’ Brown describes that before she established healthy boundaries she was “sweeter on the outside” but “judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside”. I can relate. Can you? Because really, can you truly be happy if you’re always trying to please others? I mean, I’m sure you don’t believe that people are responsible for your happiness, so why would you believe that you are responsible for their happiness? At the end of the day, no matter what we do or don’t do, I know we can’t really control the happiness of others.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.” ~ Brene’ Brown

The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into clearly establishing what we want and don’t want, then how can we expect others to know what we want. They can’t read our minds so if we don’t define them, then someone else will. Having healthy boundaries in place will help you realize your self worth, and demonstrate that your needs and feelings are valid and important. You’re worthy of being seen and heard and of putting your needs first. You deserve to have a voice and an opinion. Of course, for some, it may be a bit more difficult to find your inner power and firmly define your boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. There’s no doubt that it’s hard but anyone can do it with time and practice. At first you’ll feel uncertain and a bit scared, and your boundaries will feel a bit shaky, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will feel. In the beginning you’ll likely feel bad or guilty if others aren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.

Just like other people can’t read our minds, we can’t read theirs. It’s not our business to try and keep them happy or avoid disappointing them. In fact, in doing this, we also kind of take away their power from them by trying to avoid upsetting or disappointing them. We don’t need to filter ourselves for the sake of others. We’re allowed to feel what we feel and it’s not our place to manage other peoples emotions, even if it comes from a caring place. We may think we know what’s best for everyone but sometimes we need to take a step back and allow other people to decide how to feel for themselves. All we can really do is have our own boundaries in place, honor them, and express what we need and how we feel.

Having healthy boundaries can help change our lives. They can help you express your needs and desires without feeling pushy, rude or guilty, and they help you strengthen your relationship with yourself. When you get clearer about what you want, what you are here for, you’ll no longer feel the need to hide or filter yourself. The more self-aware you are (see previous post), and the better you understand your Striving Styles predominant need, fears and triggers, you be able to identify who you’re meant to be and know that you’re worthy of feeling good and honoring yourself. Your well-being doesn’t have to come last.

Signs you lack healthy boundaries

A lack of strong and clear boundaries can result in feeling worthless, weak, or not good enough. Here are some signs that you are lacking healthy boundaries in your life:

  1. you find it diffcult speaking up when you feel mistreated.
  2. you find it difficult making your own goals a priority.
  3. you do things when you don’t want to. You have a hard time saying no.
  4. you go out of your way to please others and seek their approval.
  5. you overcommit and give away too much of your time, making too many sacrifies at your own expense.
  6. you get guilted into doing things for others.
  7. you agree when you actually disagree.
  8. you feel guilty taking care of yourself, and taking time for yourself.
  9. you feel guilty when someone else feels bad, like you are responsible for other peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions. You feel guilty when others aren’t happy.
  10. you feel taken for granted by others.
  11. you give your time away for free.
  12. you do or give away things that you can’t afford.
  13. you feel like you have failed someone or guilty if you say no to them.
  14. you feel resentful and complain even though you agreed to the request or the expectation.
  15. you are what others want or need you to be, and not what YOU need to be.
  16. you are almost always comply with those in superior positions (boss, parent, etc.)
  17. you have toxic relationships or stay in unsatisfying relationships or situation.
  18. you let others describe your reality.
  19. you minimise your own feelings and needs.
  20. you do things out of obligation.
  21. you are consumed with what others think of you.
  22. you over-share details about your life.
  23. you often feel like a victim (refer to previous post)
  24. you attract people who try to control or dominate you.

If you identify with any of these then stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll be discussing strategies and tools you can use to define, develop and honor healthy boundaries in every area of your life. While initially it won’t be easy, having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling guilty or bad every single time. By leaning on the understanding that ultimately everything you do is for the sake of yours and others well-being and that you are always doing your best, you will soon realize that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself and that there is nothing wrong or bad about it, and eventually you’ll feel less and less guilty.

Healthy boundaries* include:

  1. saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do.
  2. leaving situations that are harmful to you.
  3. telling others how you want to be treated.
  4. being aware of your own feelings and allowing yourself to feel differently than others.
  5. not trying to change, fix, or rescue others from difficult situations or feelings.
  6. allowing others to make their own decisions.
  7. prioritizing self-care.
  8. sharing personal information gradually based on how well you know and trust someone.
  9. recognizing which problems are yours to solve and which problems belong to others.
  10. communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
  11. having personal space and privacy.
  12. pursuing your own goals and interests.

in the following video clip, Brene’ Brown explains, in her typical humorous style, how to let go of the person we think we’re supposed to be and embrace who we are. And when we have the courage to set boundaries, we engage with our worthiness.

THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION: LIVING WITH COURAGE, COMPASSION AND CONNECTION | Excerpt | PBS
•14 Feb 2011 PBS

Book recommendation:

Now, it’s your turn.

What you would really want to do if you knew that it wouldn’t disappoint others? Which area(s) of your life are boundaries the most difficult to maintain? Which of the unhealthy sign(s) did you identify with? I recommend journaling or mediating on them. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (view of Stanley Park from Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)

*Sharon Martin, LCSW

Emotional Intelligence, Limiting Beliefs, Negative Habits of Mind, Self-Awareness, Victim mentality

Which one are you – the victim or the heroine/hero?

“Above all, be the heroine of your life. Not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron

We all play the victim from time to time, however some people do this more often than others. We tend do this because when things aren’t going well in our life, it’s much easier to blame others rather than taking responsibility. By taking responsibility we might actually have to do something to change it, and that can be a giant pain! It’s way easier to rationalize all the reasons why it’s not our fault.

Having a victim mentality keeps you stuck in the problem and less capable of finding a solution. The more you can prove that you’re not at fault, the less responsibility you’ll have to fix it. Whenever I notice myself falling into that victim mentality, I try to shift my perspective and look at my situation from a different point of view. Or, I’ll seek the opinion of a trusted friend for an objective viewpoint. But sometimes this can take a lot of effort. Many people may not even be aware that they have a victim mentality. Seeing a situation from another perspective can be especially difficult if you’re living with a deeply embedded victim mindset.

Early on in our development we learn how power and control over others affects relationships, as well as how surrendering power and control affects relationships. Generally a victim mentality comes from a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, or not having the strength to make big life decisions. Some might be afraid of losing control so they allow others to take control. This way if something goes wrong, they can place blame on others and ensure a safe position for themselves. Blaming someone justifies feeling miserable but getting caught in a loop of re-living a negative experience over and over ultimately builds resentment.

Relinquishing power and control by placing our self in someone else’s hand usually results in feeling anger, resentment, and frustration. Most people aren’t even aware that they’re playing the victim, therefore unaware of where these negative emotions are coming from. Being in a state of victim hood can reside deep within our subconscious and is often difficult to see or recognize unless someone tells us. Sadly, some people stay in this victim mentality their whole life.

“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

How to recognize if you have a victim mindset & how to break out of it.

Set backs, disappointments and hurts are all part of life.  It’s how you respond to them that will determine your happiness in life.  While you can’t control some circumstances, you can control your responses to them (refer to my post Be mindful respond rather than react).

5 Ways to Recognize if you have a Victim Mindset

  1. Everything is negative. Most things have a negative tone to them. Nothing seems to work out for you, no ones on your side, or you’ve been dealt a bad hand (refer to my previous post on negativity bias.
  2. You ask yourself “why” a lot.  Such as …why does everything in my life have to be hard.  Why can’t people leave me alone? why don’t people understand me?
  3. You ruminate over things a lot. The same negative script can go over and over in your head for hours and nothing seems to work out for you.  I never seem to get  ….  Why bother because  …
  4. You’re your own worst critic. You don’t think very highly of yourself, feel like damaged goods and that you don’t deserve good things.
  5. You’re often angry and resentful of other peoples gains. For example, you resent the fact that your good friend got a great new job and a big pay increase. She already has nice things, why is she always the one who gets these things. These things never seem to happen to me. 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Sometimes you can slip into the victim mindset only in certain areas of your life. It can be subtle but persuasive enough to hold you back or even lower your self esteem.

5 Ways to Break out a Victim Mentality

“Take full responsibility for your actions, your choices, and your life. You made it this way. If you’re happy, keep going. If not, choose to do something about it.” ~Kyle Francis

  1. Build confidence by creating small but achievable goals. If you’re convinced that good things never happen to you, you need to retrain your mind to see that you can win at something even if it’s small. Then give yourself time to reflect think or ruminate on these small accomplishments before you move onto even bigger accomplishments.
  2. Give to others. Turn your attention to giving to others. Victimization breeds neediness, and the more needy you are the more you’ll be disappointed when your needs aren’t met. Meeting someone else needs allows you to rise above the victim mode and be someone else’s hero. The satisfaction you get from loving or showing love to others gives you a reason to love yourself which guards you from future hurts.
  3. Practice gratitude. When you’re in victim mode, you focus more on what you don’t have and lose sight on what you have. You can change your perspective by spending more on what you do have. If you write them down you can re-read them and remind yourself of them later when you slip back into feeling sorry for yourself.
  4. Get closure on past hurts. This might involve forgiving someone, or forgiving yourself. If you blame yourself for continuing to make the same mistakes over and over, or for trusting the same wrong person, you’ll need understand what draws you to these bad decisions in the first place. This will take some work and you may need the help of a counselor, therapist, or even a good friend who knows you well. Once you get a handle on your patterns you can move on to better decisions in the future.
  5. Take ownership of your decisions. Remember, no one can make you feel a certain way unless you allow it. If you are around people who make you feel bad, are critical of you, etc. then you need to limit your contact with them. Sometimes we don’t have the option of not seeing them, especially if they’re a family member or a parent, so if that’s the case then you’ll need to set up boundaries and create some emotional distance to protect yourself from always being hurt by that person.  Don’t let past hurts define you.

It’s important to identify if you are wallowing in victim mode so you can put it behind you. It’s also important to reflect on your own behaviour (see previous post on emotional intelligence). You have the power to rid yourself of the victim persona but it’ll take ongoing, daily work. It’s been scientifically proven that thinking positive enhances your life and that feeling in control of your life improves your overall sense of well-being. I’d say these make it a worthwhile endeavour.

In the following Ted Talk, Lori Gottlieb shares how you can edit your life story and live more fully by letting go of that one version of your story that you’ve been telling yourself. She explains that in order to be a good editor, we need to offer compassionate truths so we don’t perpetuate the victim mentality, not just to our friends, but to ourselves. This helps us see what we’ve left out of our story so we can come up with an alternative version where we are the heroine or hero of our life story, and not the victim.

How changing your story can change your life | Lori Gottlieb

Now, it’s your turn.

Do you struggle with a victim mentality? How do you shift your mindset? Or perhaps you know someone who often plays the victim. How does this affect your relationship with them? Share in the comments below.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (winter daytime moon, Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)

Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Vulnerability

The difference between Empathy & Sympathy

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Empathy is easily and often confused with sympathy, where giving advice and judgement are disguised as concern. I consider myself an empathetic person. In fact, I believe having empathy is fundamental in my career as an HR professional, leader and coach. I also believe empathy is a requirement in the field of anthropology and the study of peoples and cultures, in which I did my undergrad. So, after reading Brene’ Brown’s book “Dare to Lead” I’ve been thinking a lot about it and recognize that I have a lot room to improve. And, also that others do as well. It made me aware of how much I crave empathy from others. Sometimes we just need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported. Empathy is key to developing greater connection in our daily lives, as well as within the broader world. To add or improve upon our empathy skills, we need to learn and practice specific skills, and readily distinguish empathy from sympathy.

So, drawing from the definitions and examples in “Dare to Lead”, I’d like to explore the practice of empathy. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself into someone’s shoes. It includes trying to imagine how another person thinks, feels, and moves. It includes trying to imagine what it is like to live in this person’s skin, in their world, with their thoughts, emotions, perspective, and outlook. When we practice empathy, we try as best we can to suspend our judgement, to be open, genuinely interested and curious. Sympathy, in contrast, includes feelings of sorrow or pity for someone else’s misfortune. Empathy is easily confused with sympathy, where giving advice and judgement are disguised as concern. Sympathy separates us while empathy connects us.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “you’re not alone”. ~ Brene’ Brown

What gets in the way of empathy?

Let’s explore what gets in the way of empathy. As humans we tend to respond in two ways when people share their challenges or pain with us. We either try and make the person feel better by encouraging them to look on the bright side or we attempt to offer a solution to the problem or situation at hand. Neither of these are empathetic responses. How often when someone shares a challenging experience do we respond with phrases that start with “oh, well lucky that…” or “at least…” or “if you think that’s bad…”. Here are a few examples:

“My daughter has been really sick all week”, the likely response “Oh too bad, but lucky your son didn’t get sick too”.

“My partner and I had an argument last night and it’s left me feeling upset”, response may follow “don’t worry about it, you two have such a strong relationship”.

“I’m feeling so stressed and tired with work and the family, I just feel so overwhelmed”, someone responds “you just need a nice warm bath and an early night”.

“I’m so tired of driving my kids around, I never seem to have any time to myself”, and the response “that’s nothing. Let me tell you how much I have to drive” or, “at least you still have kids to drive around”.

These are all examples of our habitual desire to make people feel better by pointing out the bright side or to make the situation better by offering a solution. While these sentiments are generally well-intended, they rarely help the suffering person. What people usually need is to feel seen and heard as this fuels connection and healing. The key is keeping the focus on the person sharing or struggling and not making it about you. Only after this soothing experience of connection and empathy can people be open to solutions to their problems or the glass half full approach.

Here are some examples of more empathetic responses:

“Oh it sounds like you’ve had a really rough week” or “I can feel your pain” or “it sounds like you’ve got a lot going on in your life right now”. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on our tendency to respond to other peoples challenges the way we habitually do. Our human tendency to offer solutions or to make people see the bright side may actually be a way for us avoiding this sense of shared vulnerability. For in focusing on the solution or the glass half full perspective, we can brush off the sadness or vulnerability that is present for the other. This in turn protects us from our own vulnerabilities. And here we are reminded that the path of self awareness requires us to show courage and to face our vulnerabilities with a sense of shared curiosity.

In this short video Brene’ Brown explains the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Brene’ Brown on Empathy vs Sympathy

Now, it’s your turn.

When you’re sharing a challenging experience with someone, what are the empathy misses that shut you down? What emotions come up for you when your sharing meets one of these barriers? On the flip side, how do you rate your empathetic skill? Are there one or two responses that you typically use that you need to change? Share your responses in the comments below.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Emotional Intelligence, Negative Habits of Mind, Self Protective System, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Ever take things too personally?

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”~ Don Miquel Ruiz

Why are we so quick to take things personally? Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? In fact, research suggests that we significantly overestimate how much we are singled out and judged by others. When someone says something negative or nasty about you, it actually says more about them. Right now, you can make a decision to no longer emotionally react to other people’s issues (see previous post respond rather than react). It takes practice and patience to stop taking things personally but once you accomplish it, your life will become completely transformed.

“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.” Dan Millman.

Taking things personally is an automatic negative habit of mind where you make everything about you. It’s like you’re the center of everything that happens and where you believe that all situations have something to do with you, which in reality isn’t true. When you believe you are the cause or the object of negative events, then you are personalizing. Here are a few examples of personalizing:

  • If a friend seems distant, if a boss is angry about something, if your sister doesn’t call, you see yourself as the cause of their emotions and behaviour.   
  • If your co-worker doesn’t greet you like they normally do, you start thinking about what you might have done wrong to upset them, when really it has nothing to do with you. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse before coming to work. 

How to stop taking things personally

  1. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Give the benefit of the doubt to the other person and remember to listen to their entire story, then ask questions to clarify their viewpoint. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly when you are being confronted. Don’t make assumptions about judgment or criticism seemingly directed at you. Maybe it’s not about you at all, but about them and their own projected perceptions. In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs.
  2. Make decisions on your self-worth and not on what others say or think about you. Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission” so don’t give them your permission. Realize that your self worth depends on you and not what others say about you. Of course, relationships will always play a prominent role in our life. But the more you know about yourself, the less you will need others to tell you about yourself.
  3. Take a different perspective. Ask yourself how an unbiased outsider might view this situation. Ask yourself what might be impacting that persons behaviour such as, they’re having a bad day, their personality type, etc. If they were rude to you, it’s almost never about you but a reflection of their own issues.
  4. Understand your predominant personality type or Striving Style. Each of the eight striving styles have a dominant and/or preferred communication style. Learning about your predominant needs and fears, as well as that of others, will offer a deeper insight into how you respond and what might trigger you. Learn more.
  5. Consider the big picture. Instead of taking someone else’s comments personally, take a moment or two and think about the bigger picture. What do the people who know you best think about you? Doesn’t their opinion matter more than this person?
  6. Give up your judgement. Most of us have preconceived notions about people and situations. It’s just the way we are. That being said, no one likes to be judged. When we let that judgement go, it frees us up to see the person and situation in a whole new way. By giving up the judgement, we might actually find out what the real issue is.
  7. Practice being strong. Strong in who you are and what you believe. When we have confidence in ourselves, it’s much easier to stay neutral and avoid buying into somebody else’s baggage or their issues.
  8. Be aware of your triggers. If you are a sensitive person you likely have radar that constantly catches negative comments that hurt you. Know what makes you feel vulnerable. When you are aware of your sensitive spots, the things that trigger your emotions and reactions, you can prepare yourself if an interaction arises that attempts to draw you in. When we take something personally it’s often related to rejection in some way. Something has happened in the past that triggers our limbic brain, the emotional center of our brain. Do you know what triggers your emotional responses? If you do, that’s great. Recognizing the triggers is the first step in disengaging. When we take something personally we do not stand in our own power but buy into others weaknesses.
  9. Think about comments or criticism as a growth opportunity. When faced with critical comments, take them in a constructive way. Ask yourself if there is any truth to it and what you can learn. Ask yourself how you can grow and let the rest of it go.
  10. Create a space between yourself and your reactions. Your initial response might be to react emotionally. If possible, don’t follow that knee-jerk reaction. Take the time to rein in your emotions and assess what’s really happening before you respond (refer to my post on respond rather than react). In general, it’s a good idea to create a healthy personal space around yourself. When you create some space or buffer between yourself and another person, personal boundaries have less chance of being crossed or blurred.
  11. Let go of the need to please. Realize that you can’t please everyone. Work to reduce the impossible demand that you need to be perfect.
  12. Listen carefully to gain clarification. Hopefully, your emotions will take a back seat while you ask this individual to fully explain what’s on their mind and what they want from you. Listen carefully before you respond so you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t (Refer to my post Are you listening?).
  13. Enlist some support. Seek counseling or enlist the help of a trusted friend to help shift your perspective on yourself and others.

If you practice these techniques over and over you will re-wire your brain and find yourself becoming more neutral and less affected by someone else’s negativity. As you develop these techniques you will stand in your own power and confidence.

When you find yourself thinking that someone else’s behaviour was caused by you or their feelings about you, think about other options or reasons why they might be behaving the way they are.  Or, consider why they might be behaving the way they are if you weren’t in the picture.  Notice how your emotional reactions change when you recognize that their behaviour is not about you.

Don Miguel Ruiz talks to Oprah about Agreement #2: How to Not Take Things Personally

Now, your turn:

Reflect on recent situations in which you have taken things personally. How did you make it about you, (What did you tell yourself? How did you interpret their actions?), and how did it affect your behaviour? Now think about other possible interpretations of the situation that don’t attribute the cause to you. Share in the comments.

My book recommendation:

Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels

Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness, React vs Respond, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Be Mindful: Respond rather than React

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is power to choose our response” ~ Viktor Frankl

No doubt all of us, including me, have reacted at times in our lives when we should have responded.  Upon reflection, we can often identify those events based on how we felt afterwards. We may have wished we hadn’t said something, or chosen a different tone, or had simply removed ourselves from the situation until we knew how to respond well.  As adults, we all know the right thing to do.  Yet, often our emotions get the best of us and we react – at work, at home, in the car, on social media, etc.  Until we are shown, taught, or learn something different, we often don’t know how to control our reactions, or even recognize our behaviour.  

So what is the difference between reacting vs responding?

A reaction is instinctive, based in the moment and doesn’t take the long term effects of what we do or say into consideration. While reacting in an emergency involving life and death where your survival is at stake is important, it’s when we react in everyday situations that we damage our relationships, and potential for a positive outcome.  A reaction is typically quick, tense and aggressive, while a response is thoughtful, calm and non-threatening.  A reaction typically provokes and perpetuates negative reactions.

When we react, we aren’t choosing.  Rather we are allowing our reptilian (or instinctual brain), the oldest part of our brain, to take control. The reptilian brain is all about survival: movement, breathing, circulation, hunger and reproduction, territory, and social dominance. A reaction uses our reptilian brain, which is survival-oriented.  Based on what your emotions trigger you to do, you act without really thinking through the consequences.  This might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later. When we choose to simply react to what occurs in our lives, we often behave defensively, such as bating or taking revenge, blame, scapegoating, etc.  Stephen Covey defines the difference between reactive and responsive individuals as follows: “Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them.” 

“Respond don’t react.  When you react to a person’s negative comments or actions in an angry, overly emotional or aggressive way, then you are giving that person power over you.  If a person can easily get a rise from you, then you are no longer in control.  If you take a moment and respond in a calm, healthy, honest and real way, then you are in control.  You are not allowing anyone to take your power away, or invoke a reaction from you.” Maria Consiglio

A reaction is usually quick and typically:

  • involves the reptilian/instinctual and the limbic/emotional brain.
  • is emotional.
  • involves speaking without thinking.
  • is often tense and aggressive.
  • creates conflict.
  • perpetuates discontentment and disagreement.
  • others are in control.

However, as highly evolved mammals, we have three brains: the reptilian brain or survival-oriented brain; the emotional or limbic brain; and the neocortex brain.  While our limbic/emotional brain is highly reactive and subconsciously involves our emotions and feelings, the neocortex is the thinking part of the brain, and where we have the capability to respond rather than react derives itself.  

It is the neocortex where we develop thoughtful responses.   This is where we gather and digest the necessary information, where we decipher what we are seeing and feeling, and where we put it into context. It’s future-focused, and where we understand the world so we are capable of making sound decisions.  It is why when thinking about how you might respond in a more mindful fashion, you can plan your future responses and strengthen your ability to take action that is in your best interest.

A response is a conscious decision that usually comes more slowly, and:

  • involves your neocortex or rational brain.
  • isn’t based on your emotional trigger.
  • involves acting by really thinking through consequences.
  • it includes a plan for future responses.
  • it’s non-threatening.
  • it takes time.
  • allows for assertiveness without aggression.
  • resolves conflict.
  • you are in control of your life.

While it’s not always easy to know how to respond best in every situation, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent help tremendously (topics I’ve discussed in my earlier posts). Like self-awareness and emotional intelligence, knowing how respond is a skill that can be developed.  When we know first-hand the negative experience that can result from reacting, we are far more motivated to make sure we respond in a similar situation.  It takes practice and requires us to be able to pause in nearly any situation before speaking or acting. 

To achieve our full potential, and become more successful both personally, and professionally, we need to be more aware of, and have more influence over our responses.  From recent brain research, we know that our brains are plastic and has the ability to develop connections with the other parts.   According to Dr. Bill Crawford, a psychologist who studies the brain, and concepts of responding and reacting, our brains are constantly rewiring with every thought, emotion, and/or behavior. He says that “when we respond to life in a way that is more effective… the brain creates and reinforces neural pathways from our limbic system up to our neocortex”.

How Mindfulness helps reprogram your brain

“Mindfulness give you time. Time give you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feeling. You can respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.” – Bhante H. Gunaratana

Your thoughts (beliefs) create your feelings; your feelings create your actions; your actions create your results.  Mindfulness is awareness of what is happening in the present moment, including awareness of thoughts, without any attachment to whatever you notice.  Mindfulness is helpful because it creates space between thoughts and actions.  By increasing your awareness of your thoughts, you can begin to break old automatic or habitual chain reactions between your triggers, thoughts, feelings and actions.  Each time you choose to not to activate your old trigger-thought-feeling-action-result sequence, you weaken the connections.  Furthermore, each time you choose a different action, you program new connections.  With repetition and practice, you hardwire these new programs so your new thoughts and responses become your new habits.

When we respond to life, we:

  • become the directors, rather than the followers
  • establish stronger relationships
  • become better communicators
  • minimize confrontations
  • find more peace
  • reduce regret
  • build a confidence that we can handle any situation we come up against
  • we thrive!

In essence, when choosing to respond versus react, you are taking charge of your life.  Choosing to be responsive is taking responsibility of our lives. Recognizing the power of our words, our behavior, our tone, our delivery, etc. will make a positive difference to those in our lives. 

“Instead of asking others to change their behaviour, your power is in your changing your reaction to their behaviour.  You have no control over their behaviour, but you do have complete control over your reaction to it.” – Abraham Hicks

How you can build a response habit:

Think of a time or situation that always causes conflict for you.  What are the things you tell yourself about the situation? How do you usually react to it? Record your answers. 

Practice responding to challenging situations until these responses become reactions.

Each time you enter into a situation that you know tends to cause you to react, take a few minutes to write down how you normally react and how you want to respond instead.  What will it look like? What will you say differently? How will you act differently?

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (breezy window in Tuscany, Italy)

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles

Discovering our je ne sais quoi

” I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself” – Emma Stone

Inspired by a recent group of my workshop participants, as well as my upcoming trip to Paris, France with my teenage daughter, promoted me to read and reflect on the phrase “je ne sais quoi”, a phrase often used to describe French or Parisian women.  I read recently that we spend the first half of our life trying to fit in, while the second half we spend trying to stand out.  Inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging our children to have the confidence and independence to fully embrace their unique whole selves and live fully, especially during this first half of their lives, is my deepest desire for them.  I think the best way to do this is to do our best and model it for them.  I couldn’t agree more with the following quote:

“Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids” – Lenny Lemons

Here’s what I found that best describes someone who embodies “je ne sais quoi”:

  • Nurtures her internal well-being as much as her external beauty.  Life isn’t about impressing others but enjoying herself.
  • Accentuates her strengths, focusing on her unique characteristics, both physically and personality.  Owning what she has, not fixing or changing herself.  She shows up as the best version of herself.
  • Keeps her beauty natural and authentic to her unique physical characteristics.
  • She finds pleasure in healthy, quality food, indulging in moderation.
  • She uses her clothing and physical appearance as a tool to establish and represent her state of being.
  • Brings passion to everything she does, from the mundane to the big things.
  • Stops trying so hard to impress others.  It’s about being you!
  • She is self-possessed, and builds her life around knowing what she loves, what turns her on, what’s she’s passionate about.  She builds her life on inner joy and personal radiance.  Finds answers within and shares that passion with the world.
  • She simplifies her life so she has more space to strive for passionate pursuits and stress-free living.
  • She savours the moment by slowing down.
  • While she visualizes and plans her life, and where she’s going, she can let go of control and enjoy her journey. She focuses on how to presently show up in the moment.
  • She does not take life too seriously, approaching her life with a playfulness and friskiness that delights everyone she encounters.
  • She continuously learns and grows.
  • She exudes confidence, intelligence, sophistication, and style that comes from the clarity of knowing who she is!

Understanding ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, fears and underlying beliefs that get in our way to becoming our best self is fundamental in discovering our je ne sais quoi.  The “This is You” workshop and Striving Styles Personality System helps us to further dive into an understanding of our personality,  helps us to recognize our innate strengths, offers insight and understanding of ourselves and and how our unique brain works.  These are the skills needed to uncover and nurture our authentic self.  Contact me if you would like to discover your je ne sais quoi!

Communication, Emotional Intelligence

How’s your emotional literacy?

“And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.” ~ Jane Austen

Knowing how you feel and how to accurately identify your emotions through words – spoken or written – is a powerful way to improve our connections with others, build understanding, and enriches our relationships.  Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.  Learning the language of emotions is difficult, and describing your feelings is tough.  At least it is for most of us.  According to Brene’ Brown’s research, the majority of people she interviewed are not comfortable with emotions and far from “fluent in the language of feelings”.

What is an emotional vocabulary?

An emotional vocabulary is one in which language accurately describes how you are feeling. While parents or adults often encourage kids to express their feelings with words (we tell them to “use your words”) we often fall short ourselves.  We often instinctively restrict our vocabulary to anything but the broadest terms (such as “angry” or “happy”) or adopt lingo (like “cool” or “awesome”) to abstract and generalize our feelings.

Why are emotions so hard to explain?

Emotions are very nuanced, with slightly different meanings, and can be very hard to explain. Imagine trying to describe a particular shade of blue – is it more purple than green? Bright or dark? Is there a specific name for that shade such as sky, navy, or indigo?

Emotions are often mixed, and to explain them, you need to be able to identify and label the tones of emotion that make up what you feel. This can be difficult for people who are adept at expressing themselves emotionally, forget those of us who haven’t had much practice developing those capacities for recognizing what we feel.

As a result, we will often forget how to express our emotions verbally, even resorting to emojis, LOL’s, etc. my personal go-to’s, ;), to clarify our feelings. These behaviors are not only adopted by our kids but encouraged culturally as the very speed of communications shortcuts vocabulary and expression to anything but the mere essentials.

Why emotional literacy is so important.

Many of us only know or rely on a few emotional descriptive words, such as mad, sad, happy. How often do you use an emotional word in everyday speech? Can you describe your emotions?   Many of us haven’t been taught.  If our family didn’t discuss emotions on a regular basis, or we were shut down when you tried, we wouldn’t have learned all the ways they can be described and communicated.

Emotional literacy is an important aspect of language.  If we can’t name or articulate what’s happening to us emotionally, we can’t address it correctly.  Much like when you go to the doctor and you are must describe your symptoms.  Without the right descriptions or words, the doctor is unable to accurately diagnose you, and therefore, offer the right prescription or treatment.

Learning to use accurate feeling words when expressing ourselves supports emotional growth.  Developing and expanding our emotional vocabulary will help us approach feelings and relationships in a more sophisticated and well-adjusted way.

Here are some words to describe emotions (from Brene Brown):

Anger

Anxious

Belonging

Blame

Curious

Disappointed

Disgust

Embarrassment

Empathy

Excited

Fear| Scared

Frustrated

Gratitude

Grief

Guilt

 

Happy

Humiliation

Hurt

Jealous

Joy

Judgment

Lonely

Love

Overwhelmed

Regret

Sad

Shame

Surprised

Vulnerability

Worried

 

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (lavender fields in Provence, France)

Emotional Intelligence

What’s your EQ? The Four Areas of Emotional Intelligence

”You don’t have to control your thoughts.  You just have to stop letting them control you.” – Dan Millman

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

How we manage our lives and interact with others lies in our ability to interpret our emotions and the emotions of others.  Yet, nobody actually teaches us this. While we are taught many things throughout school, we were not taught how to manage our emotions and thoughts. Emotional Intelligence or EQ is the management and understanding of our individual emotional circumstances as well as the emotional states of others.   EQ is fundamental in the work I do with both individuals and leaders.

Emotional Intelligence has been proven to be more vital and a more accurate determinate than IQ when it comes to long-term success in one’s quality of life. Recently, we are hearing a lot more about EQ, a term created by researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer.  But it was  Dan Goleman’s 1996 book Emotional Intelligence, EQ that brought it to the mainstream.  It is often the detail forgotten about that upon tending to makes a significant difference in the quality of our lives no matter what the circumstances may be.  And, the great news is, unlike one’s IQ, EQ is a learned skill. Each of us has the ability to improve our EQ with awareness and practice no matter what our age.

So what is Emotional Intelligence?

It’s often broken down into the following three components and skills:

  1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
  2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;
  3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

There are four areas where one will exhibit if they have a high emotional intelligence: two components are under Personal and two under Social.

PERSONAL:

Self-Awareness includes:

  • knowing your story and how it affects you
  • making peace with your past
  • knowing your beliefs, your emotions & your behaviour patterns
  • knowing your relationship patterns

Self-Management includes:

  • learning skills for breathing and relaxation
  • completing your basic emotional healing work
  • learning skills for soothing and motivating yourself
  • maintaining healthy eating and exercise

SOCIAL:

Social Awareness includes:

  • understanding non-verbal signals
  • developing a positive view of others
  • understanding basic human emotional needs
  • understanding “games” and personal integrity

Relationship Management includes:

  • developing skills for reflective listening and empathy
  • learning skills for healthy assertiveness
  • learning conflict resolution skills
  • developing skills for support and affirmation of others.

A big part of emotional intelligence is being able to feel an emotion without having to act on it.  Exploring and understanding ourselves while respectfully and thoughtfully navigating the world around us whether in work or play is, when we look at what our lives are all about, what living well should be all about. Striking a healthy balance between ourselves and the relationships we build, and ensuring the relationships we build with ourselves  and with others are healthy, respectful, thoughtful, loving and kind.

EQ is simple in theory, and eventually does become simple in practice, but initially, it will take time, attention and patience to build a muscle that may not have been developed or used in quite some time, possibly ever. Now, as you will see below, there are many different characteristics.

What can we gain by improving our EQ?

Gaining emotional intelligence enables one to master self-worth, emotional and psychological well-being. With increased emotional intelligence, we are also much more effective in our relationships.

Benefits & Characteristics: Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

  • become the curator of your own happiness regardless of outside forces, events or people
  • solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly
  • Be able to accurately perceive emotions in faces
  • manage emotions effectively – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure
  • regulate emotions such as anger or jealously and keep them at a healthy level.
  • calmly find solutions to problems
  • exude confidence due to trusting intuition and not allowing emotions to get out of control
  • can look honestly at yourself – observing strengths and weaknesses – being able to work on areas you can improve
  • become comfortable with change
  • strength to say no
  • exemplify sincere thoughtfulness
  • able to be disciplined and therefore able to discern between immediate and long-term effects
  • thereby experience much success, effectiveness and productivity
  • strong listening skills
  • less likely to judge and stereotype
  • manage relationships well
  • able to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you
  • manage disputes effectively, become an excellent communicator, and become adept at building and maintaining relationships

The benefits included on this list are the reason I have been actively researching and continuing to remain curious about the concept of EQ. As I continue to improve and apply the practices of being emotionally intelligent both personally and professionally, I have begun to see remarkable improvements.

Emotional intelligence is something that each of us—if we are willing to learn and grow—can improve over time. An increase in emotional intelligence can lead us to more meaningful relationships and make us better suited to navigate the emotional landscapes of our lives. It’s not something that is easy to accomplish within a few months but rather it’s a journey over many years.

While we are often stronger with in one area over others, we can develop them all so that we become better leaders in our lives, whether at our workplace, our home or elsewhere.